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  2. Tim


    Check-up with Sachin at 09:00, hygienist at 09:20. 02476 382 081
  3. As we were walking back from the supermarket after doing the blog last night, we hit a new temperature record for this holiday - minus 28! It felt significantly warmer when we stepped out of the apartment this morning, and the thermometer in the village confirmed that it was a comparatively mild minus 14 We just caught a glimpse of the beautiful sunrise as we left the apartment and started walking towards the lake. Our plan for today was to give skiing a go on our own. We carried the (heavy!) skis as far as the sports shop, before getting changed into our ski boots and temporarily leaving our own boots behind in the shop. The advantage of doing it this way was that otherwise we'd have had to have walked all the way to the lake in the ski boots, skied, then carried the skis back to the apartment, changed into our actual boots, and carried the skis back to the shop. This way we could go skiing, then hand the skis back in and collect our own shoes once we'd finished Walking in the ski boots is actually really difficult because they don't have very good grips on them. Crossing the main road and walking through the supermarket carpark were particularly tricky, because the snow is quite compacted and slippy there, but we made it all in one piece and were soon on the lake, ready to begin. Alfie got off to a strong start I needed a bit of time to warm up Alfie was out-performing me and Tim so much that he was soon just a little black dot on the horizon! He may have managed a few more laps than we did We spent a bit of time catching our breath before setting off again. Once we'd skied to the far side of the lake, Alfie and Tim decided to practise their skills at skiing uphill... ...and downhill. Some attempts at going uphill were more successful than others Going downhill wasn't without challenges either! Once we were all thoroughly exhausted, we skied back across the lake, handed back our equipment and indulged in a large amount of pizza By the time we'd finished eating, it had started snowing outside. As we walked back towards the apartment, the snow got increasingly heavy, to the point where we couldn't even see the lake (it's normally visible in the distance here). By the time we got back to the apartment, it felt like a proper blizzard. There was lots of fresh powdery snow on the ground. We were able to walk through the untouched snow to the door of our apartment It was a fun end to what has been a great holiday. Tomorrow will be a long day of travelling, with our first at 10.50 from Kittila and then our second at 17.05 from Helsinki. Lapland is always a destination which involves a lot of travelling, but we definitely think it's worth the effort
  4. It felt very cold when we stepped out of the house this morning, and sure enough once we got to the village thermometer we found it was showing a temperature of minus 23. We were walking towards the frozen lake to try and find a snowshoeing path that we'd seen signposted while we were skiing in the woods the other day. On the way we passed a sign advertising ice swimming in the lake, but we decided to give that a miss and stick with our original plan of snowshoeing instead The lake looked beautiful again in the snow. We put our snowshoes on and then we were ready to set off. Tim's beard had already started to freeze I was looking rather cold too! As we set off across the lake, we could see a slightly pink glow in the sky, although the colours weren't as strong as they had been the other day. After a while we reached the far side of the lake and found the start of the trail, marked by blue poles. The path led us through the trees. The snow was pretty deep here... ...especially if you strayed off the path It was beautiful here, but extremely cold! Tim and Alfie decided that they were too cold and that they wanted to head back to the shopping centre to look for some souvenirs. I decided to carry on on my own and explore some more of the path. Once I was on my own, I may have got slightly carried away taking photos of trees again The further I went, the deeper the snow seemed to be. It definitely wasn't getting any warmer; if you look carefully in this photo you might be able to see the ice on my eyelashes, as well as my white hair The path became narrower... ...before leading up a snowy slope into the forest. Now I really was right between the trees. I was glad of the blue poles; without them it might have been difficult to tell where the path was going. The path continued along a little ridge for a while, but then started to lead quite steeply downhill. I decided I'd better turn back, because I might not get down the slope - or if I did, I might not get back up again I started making my way back towards the lake. It was coming up to 2pm now and so there was an orange glow in the sky... ...and a bit of pink over the big fell in the distance. I tried a sunset selfie As I emerged back out onto the lake, I was excited to see a herd of reindeer crossing the lake. They were quite a long way away, so it was difficult to get a good photo. Once they'd moved off into the trees, I continued on my way and was over halfway across the lake when I saw a single solitary reindeer in the distance. He started getting closer. Was he going to walk towards me? Wow, he literally walked right past me! I've never been as close to a reindeer as this By this stage I was in danger of turning into an icicle, so I headed back towards the supermarket. Tim and Alfie had had a successful shopping trip and discovered that, while we'd been out, the temperature had dropped even lower, hitting minus 25; a record low for this holiday!
  5. 2019 started with a lie-in for me and Alfie because we were going husky-sledding, courtesy of my parents, who treated Alfie to this for Christmas. Clare didn't fancy being a driver, so instead set off snowshoeing in the woods, leaving us behind. There was fresh snow on the ground, which always gives a lovely crunch when you walk on it: For once, we didn't walk in the direction of the supermarket but instead took the opposite turn walking uphill to our bus stop. The scenery is just as pretty: We got there with plenty of time to spare, nearly half an hour before the bus was due. I remember from last time that it's not the easiest bus stop to find but we were there within minutes and awaiting 12:30. We ended up waiting longer; the bus arrived at 12:43, forty minutes after we did, but was still earlier than last year. We boarded and there was only a family of four there. I thought our luck was in! Not quite so. We drove to the main office whereupon the guide explained that we were picking up some more people and that we were free to use the toilet, get a drink and even pick up some equipment. He made a point of suggesting to me that I might quite like to borrow a jumpsuit to protect me from the cold. Clearly he's not aware that this is the man who forswears gloves and a jacket at minus 17 if he's required to do any form of exertion! Alfie asked me how long this was going to take. Theoretically, it shouldn't have taken any time at all; the information on the ticket stated that we would be picked up at 12:30 and that the event would start at 13:00. However, we didn't leave until 13:20, arriving at 13:50. It was a lovely journey, though. We were quickly welcomed off the coach and given our safety instructions. There really wasn't a lot for passengers to learn, other than sit down and keep your extremities within the sled: Drivers had a bit more to learn, including hand signals for stop, go and slow down, and how to brake: We were even further delayed because the safety instructions were being translated into Spanish. I grew a bit restless and had a peek at some typical Sami accommodation: The dogs were all tied up and ready to go: There are 160 dogs at the farm. Although they're there to work, they each have names and personalities. Some of them bark in excitement because they want to run, others are more restful and have a quick nap between tours, whilst still others pull at their leads to try to get the tour started earlier! We happened to have the first sled in line and were soon off with our team of six: Sometimes there are eight dogs in a team for when there are more people on the sled. The dogs might have liked to have another couple added to their number once we hit the uphill stretch! The dogs are partnered alongside the dog they live with. Usually the whole team are neighbours. If the team works well, the dogs are kept together but changes are made if required, such as if the dogs fight. It's rare but it can happen. Our own team was soon broken up because of a problem. It didn't involve fighting though: Ours was a team of five boys and a single, solitary female. Apparently a "heat team" had been out a couple of sessions before and it gave two or three of our males ideas about the female in our group, so she had to be removed and replaced! Soon we were off and running again. The dogs nearest the sleigh are wheel dogs. They tend to be males, since this position requires the most strength, the dogs taking weight on their shoulders. The dogs in the middle are the fastest. The first dogs are the leaders, the brains of the team, planning the route. Usually these are females. Don't worry about the cold and how much you would hate to be out in it. The dogs live outside and love Arctic conditions, tolerating up to minus 45 degrees. Optimum weather for running is minus 20. When they get hot, they just grab a mouthful of snow on the move to cool off: One of the few things you have to do as a driver is apply the brake when bends come up so that the dogs, in taking a corner at pace, don't end up swinging the sleigh off the track. The guide on the snowmobile gives you the hand signal to slow down, which you then relay to the people behind you: Before long, darkness had descended and the dogs led us home: Everything looked beautiful with the magnificent sky behind it: Our own dogs were too keen on grabbing a drink to want to play with us, so we went and said hello to some of the dogs who were already in place for the next tour. There were some really friendly dogs there! We then got a chance to warm up by a fire: Our guide served us some hot berry juice and gave us some information about the farm and the dogs there. She explained that the dogs don't eat in the morning because their guts might twist when they run. In the evening they get a kilo of raw meat and dog pellets. They work quite hard in the winter, running 20 to 30 kilometres a day. The season starts in early December until mid-April. In summer the dogs get to play outside because they don't do any running in the heat. Training for the new season starts in August. After that we got to meet the 13 puppies, born and raised there according to a strict breeding programme, where males are matched to females! Sometimes, however, there are surprise puppies. Otto, who is 14 and the oldest dog on site, used to escape by scaling a wall and then would open the door of the cells of the bitches in heat. You know what happened next. The puppies are kept as pups until they're one. They start training for a year and join a team at two, racing until they're ten. Old retired dogs typically live with the puppies, doing grandparenting. Sometimes they get a new home because there are people in the area who collect retired sled dogs. Once they get a taste of it, the puppies love running. The relative calm can quickly be broken by puppies chanting in unison once they catch sight of another team getting ready to head out! One final look at the farm with that wonderful combination of snow and sky, and then we were back on board our coach, returning home after a really fun day out!
  6. I hadn't fancied joining Tim and Alfie at the huskies today, not being a huge fan of dogs. That meant I had to find something else to do instead. I decided to opt for snowshoeing, and re-do the trail which we had all done together on Sunday. It had been snowing all through the night and so as I left the apartment behind and made my way towards the woods, the ground was covered in fresh snow. When I got to the point where the path began, I could see that a machine had been along to flatten the snow down a bit, making it easier to walk on, but it still seemed a lot deeper than on Sunday. Time to put snowshoes on! I set off on the path through the trees It was very cloudy today so the colours in the sky weren't as impressive as they have been on other days, but it was still really lovely. The trees seemed even more laden down with snow than they had earlier in the week. We've been told before that they bounce back once the snow melts, but it looked like it was going to be harder for some than for others. Some looked like they were never going to bounce back at all! I had a go at taking a selfie with snowy trees, but it wasn't terribly successful I could actually have spent all day taking photos of trees Some of them were really huge... ...while others were barely poking up through the snow. By this point I felt like I must be getting close to the cafe. Sure enough, I soon got confirmation that I was getting to the icy part of the walk. I figured if I'd got across the ice once, I could do it again I managed it without any problems and was soon back on the snow. I passed the cafe without going in; it was starting to snow again, so I thought it seemed best to press on. The most exciting thing about the next bit of the path was that I was the first person to walk on the fresh snow It was such a beautiful walk. The path led past a stream, which wasn't completely frozen... ...and then under some more bent-over trees. I had another go at a selfie here Then I got to the downhill slope part of the walk. This actually seemed easier today, with more snow to dig the snowshoes into. After that, it was back up through the valley of trees... ...and back to the road. You can't really tell from the photos, but at this point there was a minor blizzard, with lots of snow falling and a rather strong wind. By the time I eventually got back to the apartment, I was rather cold It was a great walk though and wonderful to walk in the fresh snow
  7. Nearly everybody does something to celebrate the New Year. But how many people get to do it on a lake? This was our plan for the night. It was snowing when we left the apartment: The flakes were tiny but there were a lot of them coming down! We already know the walk to the lake very well but it was even clearer tonight because the path had been lined with candles: We were some of the first people to arrive and so didn't have to queue to buy some warming drinks. These were apple juice which was heated with cinnamon, cloves and aniseed: There was still plenty of snow as we walked the short distance to the lake: And there we stood with our hot drinks until, all of a sudden, a fireworks display launched from the middle of the lake! There were all sorts of fireworks! There weren't too many people there and soon we all started to walk home. But not before recording a message:
  8. If yesterday was all about snowshoeing, today was all about skiing! Tim and I had tried cross-country skiing in Lapland a couple of times before but it's very easy to forget everything you've learned from one year to the next, and this was going to be Alfie's first time on skis, so we'd booked a beginners' lesson for this morning. The good news was that the weather was a bit warmer today, and so it was only about minus 12 as we made our way to the starting point for the lesson. We had to carry our skis down to the frozen lake, which has the advantage of being completely flat, so is an excellent place for beginners to practise Although it was 10am, as you can see in the photos it was still quite dark and the street lights were still on. We soon got to the lake. As you can see in this photo, cross-country skiing is done within tracks which are carved into the snow by special machines. You place each of your skis in the tracks and then follow them wherever they lead. First of all we learned how to clip into our skis... ...and then we were ready to go... ...although we were temporarily distracted by the beautiful pink colour of the sky This time it was sunrise rather than sunset. The instructor told us to put just one ski on first of all and to practise gliding in one of the tracks. Whilst we practised, the sky turned an even deeper shade of red. Once we'd mastered one foot at a time, we progressed onto skis on both feet. The instructor was a bit mean and confiscated our ski poles so that we had to work on our balance! Alfie was a bit better at it than me The sunrise continued to be incredible as we practised going up and down the tracks on the lake. With practice I was maybe getting a bit better Eventually we were given our poles back and I felt a lot happier. There was just time to have a last look at the sunrise, before we skied right to the far end of the lake. From there we had to learn how to move uphill with our skis, which was rather hard work. You have to stick your feet outwards like a penguin and try very hard not to slip backwards as you take small steps up the slope. Once we'd managed this, we were off the lake and onto one of the ski tracks beyond it. The terrain here was a bit more uneven, but it was exciting as we were skiing through the trees. At this point only one more challenge remained; skiing down a very steep slope! It looked way too steep for me so I opted out, but Tim and Alfie both managed it Alfie got most of the way down before falling over (but managed to stand back up again straightaway, using a technique we'd been taught at the beginning of the class). Tim's attempt went a bit wrong when he managed to come out of the tracks and descended the hill very fast indeed, although he somehow succeeded in getting back into the tracks in the end and remained upright throughout. Unfortunately no videos of this! That concluded the lesson, so it was time to head back to the lake. We were all rather tired by this point, so headed back to the apartment for a much-needed rest. Later this evening we'll be setting off for the lake again, this time to celebrate New Year
  9. When we picked up our equipment from the rental shop yesterday, the man there warned us that today was going to be a cold day. Sure enough, when we got up and ventured outside this morning, we found it was very cold indeed! Minus 20 was a big change from yesterday, which had felt comparatively mild for Lapland. It was so cold that I could feel my eyelashes starting to freeze. Our plan for today was to go snowshoeing in the woods behind the village. There's a really good path which we've used in previous years and is perfect for snowshoes. First of all we had to walk along one of the side roads out of the village, just wearing our normal boots. Then when we got to the start of the path, it was time to put our snowshoes on Tim might not have felt cold, but we could already see his hair and moustache starting to freeze! The path leads through the snowy trees and is criss-crossed at different points by ski runs and tracks for snowmobiles. Most of the time we were just completely alone in the forest though As always, the hardest part about snowshoeing is getting the straps on the snowshoes attached tightly enough that they don't fall off. It's the sort of thing which is easy to do when you're sitting down inside, but really difficult when you're outside in the snow and your fingers are numb. We got there in the end though After a while the path leads down into a snowy valley. We were surrounded by enormous trees on both sides. And we could just see the bumps of smaller trees poking up through the snow. The sky wasn't quite as bright as yesterday, but there were still some beautiful colours in it. It didn't come out in the pictures, but we could actually see the moon in the distance as well. After pausing for a while to take some photos, we were off again! In this part of the forest there were some trees which were really laden down by snow. Although it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, we knew that we were now only a kilometre or so away from a cafe. That was good news, because we were now all starting to feel very cold. It wasn't just Tim's hair that was starting to freeze; mine was as well! The snow was deeper on this part of the walk, so we were glad that we had our snowshoes. There was just one final obstacle for us to cross before we could get inside in the warm for a bit 😮 I didn't like the look of that at all! We decided to send Tim across first to see whether it would bear his weight He got across without any problems, so Alfie went next and then I brought up the rear. The sign showed that we'd walked 4.8km from the village now. That meant that finally we were at the cafe and we could relax with a warm drink It was nice looking out at the snow from indoors for a while. We couldn't sit still for too long though, because we only had a couple of hours of daylight left to complete the rest of the walk and get back to the village. The return walk follows a slightly different route, which took us past some trees that were completely bowed over by the snow. It also required us to climb down quite a steep snowy slope. From there we rejoined the same path that we'd been on previously... ...and retraced our steps back to the road, where we paused to take off our snowshoes. It was starting to get dark by this point, so we'd just finished the walk on time. We found that while we'd been out the temperature had dropped even lower, hitting a very cold minus 23! All that remained was to get into the warm again for some very well-deserved pizza
  10. When we woke up this morning, we found that it had been snowing overnight, so there was lots of fresh powdery snow outside our apartment. It was still snowing a little bit by the time we finished breakfast and went outside, in fact. Our first task for today was to walk to the sports shop from which we were renting our snowshoes and skis, so we set off into the centre of the village. It was fun walking through the snow to the shop. It was slightly less fun when, having collected everything, we had to carry all the rather heavy equipment back through the snow to the apartment! Once we'd recovered from our exertions we set off once again, this time for a more leisurely stroll. There were people skiing past us as we made our way back to the centre of the village. Before long we caught a glimpse of the frozen lake in the distance. We'd been for a stroll down to the lake last night when we'd been taking advantage of the supermarket Wi-Fi to post our blog. It was different seeing it in the daylight though Part of the lake isn't completely frozen, where the local river flows into it. That part of the lake is completely fenced off with warning signs though, so there's no chance of you making a mistake in the dark! The partially frozen river is very pretty too, as Alfie and Tim found when they crossed the road for a closer look. We'd come to the far end of the village now (it's only small!) so we turned around and headed back towards the supermarket. The carpark outside the supermarket is home to this enormous reindeer... ...and from the far side of the car park, you can catch a glimpse of the local reindeer farm too. Some of the reindeer had huge antlers. A path leads down from behind the supermarket to the frozen lake. As you descend onto the lake, you can see the boathouses where people keep their boats in summer. And then all you can see is the enormous frozen lake itself, and some of the snowy fells in the background. There are a couple of paths to follow to walk across the lake. There are also a couple of ski runs, which are marked by red poles so that you don't stray onto them by mistake. As we made our way into the middle of the lake, we started to notice the unusual pink colours in the sky. The further we walked, the pinker it began to look... ...until suddenly it was very pink indeed! It was after 1pm by this point, so perhaps it was the beginning of sunset! It was beautiful anyway, and the most unusual colours we've ever seen in the sky in Lapland Tim was taking a picture of Alfie with the view... ...when I turned around and realised there were some reindeer walking across the lake! We were quite a long way away, so it was difficult to get a good photo, but they were definitely there. How exciting! As we finally got to the far edge of the lake, the sky looked increasingly dramatic. We followed a smaller path up into the trees on the other side of the lake for a while. This took us up past some cabins and to a small road... ...from where we had a view back down towards the lake. We couldn't really risk exploring any further in case it started to get dark, so we turned around to come back. Once we got back down to the lake, we could see that it was indeed starting to look like twilight. We did a bit of shopping at the supermarket and then headed back to the apartment just as darkness fell and the street lights started to come on again. We were quite tired by this point, having walked about six miles in the snow, but it was definitely worth it for the amazing views
  11. As soon as we got back from Lapland last January, we knew that we wanted to go again. Because the flights can be so expensive, we started looking at December 2018 prices straightaway and soon found an unexpectedly cheap option to fly to Helsinki with British Airways from Heathrow. There was a twist this year in that we also wanted to bring Tim's oldest nephew, Alfie, with us on the trip and so it was that less than a month after getting home from last year's holiday, we had already booked three return flights for this year. We managed to find reasonably-priced connecting flights from Helsinki to Kittila with Norwegian too, so we were all set to return to our favourite destination of Äkäslompolo. The thing which gave us the most trouble was finding accommodation. When we've booked in the past, apartments in Lapland have been quite flexible about the start and end dates for rentals. There seemed to have been a change this year, with the majority of accommodation only wanting to rent from Saturday to Saturday, at least for the Christmas week. We eventually managed to track down one solitary apartment which it was possible to let from a Friday to a Friday (which was what we needed to take advantage of the cheap flights we'd booked) and the good news was that it had room for three people. There was only one catch - it didn't have any Wi-Fi Could we survive an entire week without internet?! There were no other affordable options, so we decided we'd have to give it a go and hope that there would be some free Wi-Fi somewhere in the village of Äkäslompolo! Our flight from Heathrow to Helsinki was at 11am on Thursday, so we had a fairly civilised start to the holiday by our standards, not needing to leave home until 06.30. That was still early enough to avoid most of the traffic, so the drive down to Heathrow all went well and we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, so we could enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Our flight took off almost exactly on time and three hours later we touched down in the Finnish capital. Finland is two hours ahead of the UK, so it was just after 4pm here and already almost dark! More surprising than the darkness was the fact that there was a little bit of snow on the ground in Helsinki. There had been lots of articles in the British newpapers over the past month about a lack of snow in Lapland, following an unseasonally warm and dry November, so it was a relief to see that the weather was getting back to normal. If it was cold and snowy as far south as Helsinki, then we should be guaranteed lots of snow in Äkäslompolo Our onward flight to Lapland wasn't until Friday, so we stayed overnight in a hotel a couple of kilometres away from the airport. There was a free shuttle bus to the hotel from outside the main terminal, which was nice and convenient. When we checked in we found the rooms were a little on the small side, but nevertheless fine for one night. The other good thing about the hotel was that it was less than a kilometre away from a large shopping centre complex, which we'd discovered when we were in Helsinki this time last year. As soon as we'd got settled into our rooms, we set off through the snow to find it. It really wasn't far and we found a restaurant where we were all able to have a burger and chips for around €15 each, which is a bargain by Helsinki standards We then headed back to the hotel for an early night, because we had an early start for our flight on Friday morning. Our flight from Helsinki to Kittila was at 08.45 and the free shuttle bus was coming to take us to the airport at 06.00. That meant we had to arrange to meet for breakfast at 05.15, which felt a little bit painful! The hotel had a good breakfast buffet though, even if it was a bit difficult to take full advantage of it so early in the morning. Once we got to the airport, we had to track down one of the self check-in machines to print our boarding passes and baggage labels. This was the point at which our holiday all started to go wrong last year, when we failed to attach the baggage labels to our suitcases securely enough, with the result that Tim's label fell off and his bag didn't make it to Lapland! We weren't going to make the same mistake this year, and Tim made sure that all three labels were 100% stuck before we went to the baggage drop-off desk to hand them over. The flight to Kittila took around 90 minutes and soon we were landing in the snow The pilot told us before we got off the plane that it was minus 13 outside. That didn't stop someone getting off just wearing a T-shirt though! We soon discovered that all our bags had made it to Kittila as well (yay!). It was only about 10.30 at this point and we weren't allowed to check into our accommodation in Äkäslompolo until 16.00, so we decided to strategically miss the 11am airport bus and have a drink in the airport cafe, catching the bus which was scheduled to meet the flight after ours instead. Tim and Alfie also used the time to get changed into all their proper thermals! The next bus departed shortly after midday. Like all airport buses in Nordic countries, this one is a little bit on the expensive side, and it cost almost €70 for us all to buy tickets. Those are returns though, so now we just need to not lose the tiny slip of paper they gave us before next week... Once we left the airport behind and started driving through the snowy countryside, the views were amazing. We definitely needn't have worried that there wasn't going to be enough snow Now that it was finally daylight, it was a clear sunny day and so we had some great views of the fells in the distance as the bus drove us towards Äkäslompolo. The driver dropped us off in the centre of the village just after 1pm and we headed to our favourite restaurant to get some food. Alfie and I had enormous ham and pineapple pizzas, while Tim had another burger. By the time we had done a bit of shopping in the nearby supermarket as well, it was after 14.30 and so we decided to try our luck at checking into the apartment a bit early. We didn't have to meet anyone for check-in, having already been sent the code for the key box outside the property, so with luck we might be able to sneak in at 15.00 without anyone noticing! As we set off towards the apartment, it was already starting to look a bit like twilight and it felt very, very cold. We passed one of the village's public thermometers, which confirmed that it was in fact minus 17! Luckily we didn't have too much further to go and our run of good luck continued when the key code I'd been given for the apartment actually worked (another huge improvement on last year, when we were locked out after the rental company sent us the wrong code!). The apartment is nice and comfy inside; almost identical to the ones that we have stayed in in previous years, except that it has a staircase to a separate floor with an additional bedroom for Alfie Most importantly it's extremely warm inside, so we have all been able to thaw out. There really is no internet, but we did discover earlier that there is a free Wi-Fi network at the supermarket. This may be the first time I'm keen to be included in all the holiday shopping trips and probably also the most excited Alfie has ever been at being taken to a supermarket
  12. Part 3 of turning 40 was the big event, a medieval banquet at Coombe Abbey. I'd invited my family and Clare's family, plus my best friend and his parents. That made us 19 in total. By the time we arrived, darkness had already fallen, which made for wonderful scenery amid the Christmas decorations: There was even a reindeer in the courtyard: Clare and I arrived early so that we could go to our room and get dressed up: Clare's family similarly decided to wear period clothing: Our parents hadn't seen each other since we moved into our house in 2009, so it was probably time to reunite them! And then we were off for the meal. It consisted of four courses. I'm told that my mother assumed that the waiting staff had forgotten the spoons when the soup was served. Alas, no; this was a genuine medieval experience. The food was fairly good and the courses were interspersed with comedy spots and singing from a band of actors, encouraging lots of activity from their guests. The evening passed rather quickly, I felt. Not a bad sign, then. As everybody else left, Clare and I retired to our room: And that was that. A day of celebration from start to finish, starting with the two of us plus Heidi and Pebbles, a surprise party with the younger members of the family, and a feast with the grown-ups. It was a lot fun and I'm really pleased that everybody gave up their day to come and join us. We're lucky in how life is going for us and I still hold no regrets about turning 40 (complete with a reasonable head of hair in spite of the genetic curse!), although I noticed the next morning that you appear to feel not quite yourself, a bit sluggish or queasy once you turn 40. Oh well; still no regrets!
  13. I'd managed to arrange something for many of my family members to do to help celebrate my 40th birthday, but five were unable to go. I call them my niblings; it's to nephews and nieces as siblings is to brothers and sisters. Such a cute word; I used it with the first when he was little and the only one (so "my nephew" would've been enough) and it never went away. I remember being at my younger brother's wedding and it was time for the younger generation to come up for photos. One call of Niblings! and up they came in the blink of an eye. There are currently five of them: Alfie (11), Max (7), Mia (5), Oscar (3) and George (1). I didn't want them to miss out and I didn't want to miss out on them either, so I asked my sister to arrange for them to throw me a surprise children's party. I was late, of course. That goes without say. But Clare and I arrived to a quiet house, met by Matt, my brother-in-law, informing me that nobody was there but he was sure they'd be back soon. Well, I'd just have to walk through and wait for them, wouldn't I? Surprise! Great! They were all there and so was I! Time to start playing then! We started with pin the tail on the donkey. Alfie needs to learn that at about eight feet tall, he's going to have to crouch if he wants to get anywhere close: Oscar gave it a good shot: Mia ... eh, not quite so good: Max is a cheater and got busted feeling the edges! Judge Shanie dealt with that problem: One thing that's good about being a hobbler is that you're bent over quite naturally at just the right height: I think George won overall: We celebrated with some lollipops: Then came my favourite game: pass the parcel. It was a bit of a near miss; Oscar and Mia had decided to start attacking the parcel not long after I arrived but Lucy wrapped up the outer layer again. George was chuffed to win Thomas the Tank Engine: Alfie's present didn't bring quite the same sense of fun as the others' had but they'll come in very useful when he's in Lapland in a fortnight's time; they're grips to prevent slipping on the compacted snow: I learned that all the niblings are cheats. Look at how they tried to tear the parcel out my hands before I barely had a chance to touch it! "Party's over; I've got to do some reading now!" We played musical statues. The rules are simple; when the music stops, you have to freeze. The first one to move is out. I might not have won but at least I wasn't the first eliminated! And then out came the cake. James and Pam had done the homework for this one: Happy birthday, Uncle Tim I had to recruit Oscar to help me with the job of blowing out the candles: I'd have needed all five niblings if there'd been 40 candles on there! All five of them were briefly quiet enough to pose for a photo, though George wasn't fully signed-up to the idea of smiling: That's my five-a-side team! I thought that was the end of it but no, I'd forgotten that other great part of children's parties; getting presents! I soon unwrapped a box of beer but they had saved me a very special present till last. It seemed a bit tricky for an old man's fingers, so I recruited Mia and Oscar to help me: What was it? It was my favourite present, that's what! That's what my grandfather used to call me. The name's not been mentioned in over thirty years until Rob thought it would be funny to teach it to Oscar. Or Robert Yogurt, as I perhaps should say. That's going to take pride of place on a wall once I get organised! The day wasn't over yet, though; there was a table set, complete with triangular jam sandwiches, dinosaur serviettes, crispy cakes, and crisps. The niblings were all seated and there were two free spaces. It also happened to be James's birthday (he was a gift from my parents on the day I turned seven) so we were the guests of honour: For the avoidance of doubt, James is the grown-up that looks and acts like a grown-up. Blimey! I was tired after all this and needed to get ready for the main event in the evening, so had to leave. But this was tonnes of fun and everybody had done me proud. If they're not totally embarrassed of me by then, we'll have to try it again for my fiftieth!
  14. I seem to be one of those curious creatures who likes growing older even if I don't actually celebrate the fact. The last birthday I did anything for was my 30th, and that, my first celebration since 21, consisted of nothing more than asking three friends from different points in my life to meet me down a pub for a quick drink, the sort of thing that most people probably consider being a normal part of their week, a purely routine bit of socialising. I was quite looking forward to turning 30 and consigning the waste of time that much of my twenties had been to memory. It felt good to have a sense of focus: I'm going to grow a beard, get a mortgage and settle down. It all seemed far more positive than the largely aimless vagaries up till that point had been. Oh sure, I'd got my degree, lived abroad, was functionally fluent in two foreign languages, had even got an ultimately valueless MSc but nothing was established, no career in mind, no savings made. 30 was going to be the point when I turned the corner. In practice, the thought was a lot easier to realise than it might have been; I'd already met Clare at that point and we were coming up to our two-year anniversary. Not much by many people's standards but a record by a long shot for me. And my thirties have gone largely to plan, chiefly down to Clare and her support, and equal parts luck and hard work. I still have the beard, resisting the urge to shave it off because it's become a trendy thing in the intervening years. If I were still in my twenties, that beard would've gone. But no, I was doing a good job of being in my thirties, and so it's stuck with me and I to it. I head into my forties feeling positive. I'm not in a hurry to leave a decade behind as I was last time but I like the idea of being older. My thirties introduced many new people into my life; Clare's family have been wonderfully welcoming and treat me as one of their own. My interests have introduced me to many new people, nearly all of whom are very nice, and social media makes it easy to keep in touch with little effort. Most notable, though, are the people who weren't alive back then. I enjoy spending time with them and seeing them grow up and I'm looking forward to seeing more of the same. I can't do that without getting older. I decided it would be nice to offer something to my nearest and dearest, and so, though I wouldn't normally have done anything for my birthday, this time around I decided to throw a party and invite them to a medieval banquet at Coombe Abbey. It cost a fortune (topping £1000) but two days removed from the event, I'm glad I did it. We had a full turn-out and everybody got on very well. Our parents haven't met each other since the day we moved into our house, and that was very nearly a decade ago, so it was probably time! The younger members of the family weren't allowed there but I didn't want them to be left out, so I asked their parents to arrange a surprise party that they could throw me and then we'd get them involved that way. That will be part two of this blog but first we have to get from the morning to the point of driving to my sister's house. I got up earlier than Clare, which is fairly normal. I don't need as much sleep as she does and she works so hard that she often doesn't have a lot of fuel left in the tank, so I was out of bed long before her alarm was set to go off. I started the day with a mug of hot chocolate and a read of my current newspaper, The New European: That mug of Ludoviko Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, was a nice personal present from Clare's sister, Helen, years and years ago. It usually sits in my office as a pen-holder but I decided to give it a one-off outing today. Once Clare was up, it was time to serve breakfast. Again, nothing out of the ordinary for many people but we particularly enjoy the bacon from a local man, such that we can't buy the cheaper stuff from supermarkets anymore. I love his pork pies too and although I discipline myself from buying them usually, today was an exception and I had a few slices: We split that equally between us just in case you get the idea I might have somehow wolfed down the lot! We're not the only people who live in this house: Heidi and Pebbles do too. On their birthdays and at Christmas, they get prawns for breakfast. I decided to treat them today so that they could join in: Clare's parents and sister had kindly sent me some gifts to open on the day, so that's what I started with. Her parents know me very well and so treated me to a trip for two to a cat café: Helen is the queen of thoughtful presents and so, on top of contributing to the trip to London to eat among a host of feline friends, provided me with a little stocking filler. It was a pin from a previous World Esperanto Congress. In itself, that's probably not terribly special; you can often find them on eBay easily. But she'd taken the personal approach, which becomes clear when you look at the date: Much better than an old newspaper... That was from the year in which I was born, which makes this a very special present! At this point it had been all of a few minutes since I'd fed the girls and both had empty dishes and were looking at me expectantly: This is an old phenomenon whenever they have prawns so I served them the rest of the pack, knowing full well to give Pebbles the lion's share because she would force down every last one whereas Heidi would stop when she was full: Regular as clockwork. Once her own mountain was consumed, she wobbled over and finished off Heidi's too. After this brief interlude, it was time to open presents from Clare: With Christmas coming so soon after my birthday, it can be a little unclear what to offer me. I suggested that it would make sense to have some light reading to do in the week before Christmas and to save the bigger presents until then: Not random either because this range covers several geeky interests of mine that go back decades. And to cap it off, there was a thoughtful final present: What's so special about a pen? I became a published author a couple of months ago and a couple of people have asked me to sign their copies of the book when I see them. I'm going to be in an environment in a few months' time where other people might ask the same service of me, so I need to have something a bit more glamorous than a standard ballpoint on my person. Even better is this feature of it: So the morning was off to a flying start. Now we had to jump into the car because I had a surprise party coming up with some very special younger people.
  15. Clare

    TBS Towcester count

    Towcester Dan Camplison from MK To see Colin
  16. Clare

    TBS Daventry Count

    Daventry Micah Lau Mackaay To see Trevor
  17. Clare

    HOG cattle count

    New Creation Farm? George Meakin Contact - Daniel Lantsbery
  18. Clare

    Good Timber stocktake

    Droitwich Georgia Atwood Contact - Pete Sargeson
  19. Clare

    Silflex stocktake

    Wales Harry Tustin 07.00
  20. Clare

    Jennock stocktake

    Wales Rory Mulgrew 09.30
  21. Clare

    W&B stocktake

    Daventry Ben Roberts to see Sean Murray Arrive at 9am
  22. Clare

    HOG - firewood count

    Sara Mohammed (07305 948 103) To see Andy Lantsbery at New Creation Farm (andylants@ncfarm.co.uk) Expecting Sara at 10am.
  23. Clare

    Samco stocktake

    Nuneaton Jon Kirby
  24. Clare

    OGL stocktake

    Kidderminster Sara Mohammed
  25. Clare

    Boparan ideally sign today

    Debbie in Leeds all day
  26. Hopefully Ben Roberts
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